Lelio’s Gate

A translation of a short story written in Pelota de Papel

By: Ruben Capria

It is considered that the potential in people are innate and acquired. Considering that as the foundation, on many occasions, the context helps so that qualities are strengthened or not. Why is there this type of reasoning?

In my beloved General Belgrano, when I got up early in the morning to go to school, I would eat breakfast that consists of a delicious coffee with milk with toast and jam that my mom used to make for me.

Although the obligation of finishing my homework was the most important task, I can’t deny that there was sacred place in my head where I thought about football permanently. That’s the way we were, just like many kids in General Belgrano and Argentina- we’d sleep football, wake up thinking about football and breathe football. From my house’s kitchen, diagonally, you could see Héctor Guillén’s gate. He was my neighbor across the street.

Lelio was a great person. He was self-taught, extremely warm and with a tireless predisposition to call my father time and time again due to work issues. He happened to be the privileged one on the block because he was the only person with a phone line. He was extremely amicable… until he’d hear a ball hit his gate that my brother Diego, my cousins and my friends would turn into a beautiful goal.

The most unique thing about the gate-goal was the beautiful black wrought iron in the corners. They were ideal to target. They were easy to have as a reference point when it came time to shoot the ball.

I remember the distinct sound of the iron every time we hit our target after shooting time and time and time again. I also remember the indellible marks of ball on the white wall. Of course, each time we hit the target the alarm would turn on so that Lelio would furiously run out of his kitchen, located on one side of the garage.

He would yell and ask us to stop kicking the ball. What would be the indicator for us that he was coming was the sound of his screen door beating upon door frame. Whenever we hear that, the signal was clear and urgent- either we had to scram or hide.

You could technically say that this particular situation helped develop or sensory part because we had to run away quickly and go to the back of my uncle’s house which happened to be right in front.

My parents, trying to help the situation and avoid any eventual problems with my neighbor (which never existed) they would ask go to the wall to the end of my house to go kick the ball. But it wasn’t the same.

There we couldn’t see the goal, the angles. The temptation to return to that gate and hit those god forsaken irons was irresistible.

That was the key point in this situation. But maybe someone, including someone with good intentions could interpret that we bothered for the sake of bothering and we should have gone elsewhere and stopped messing around with his Lelio’s gate and given him some peace and quiet.

But how would we do it? How can we avoid it?

Anyone would understand, young or adult, that when they have that landscape in front of them and not they have learned that there is nothing more beautiful in the world- an angle, a ball, a challenge. It is a possible celebration in front of you.

Honestly, if football is not that, even for just a little while. If life weren’t like that for a little while, then what are football and life in the end?

Luckily we weren’t alone in our cause. We had help mixed with complicit discipline- “Lolo” the Butcher. He lived in the middle of the block. We also had Amalia, Lelio’s wife. She would talk to us with the kindness and warmth of a grandmother to not make so much noise.

She wouldn’t tell us to stop playing. Maybe because, and it is well known, that grandparents feel young again when they see a child play passionately and enjoy the games. Both things came into play in this situation.

In those not too distant days. Maybe they are if you look at the calendar, but not distant in my memory that treasures, cares and distinguishes them, the great advantage was to be able to play on the streets.

Now here is the other inevitable reference. It is an almost modest contribution of theories about football. It is a situation that gave us the possibility to develop our peripheral vision.

There are moments where you had to know when to stop playing when a car, truck or motorcycle was approaching. There was also the threat that our most precious possession (the ball) would end up dying abruptly by flattening.

So I would ask, “innate or acquired potential?”

I would ask myself, “innate potential or acquired?”

I believe that there is a professional that will find the proper answer. I can only tell you that the group were a well-oiled machine in our movements and the “stop” protocol we established when we’d hear the sound of any engine. It’s like many pedagogues say, “there are many paths to learning.”

With time, those kids grew up and ended up becoming footballers. In my case, in the end of some matches I tried to compensate several of Lelio’s moments of anger with “thanks” through the press. To him, for his patience and support. For his gate, because I have no doubt that, even with that cold and immoveable demeanor helped me calibrate my eye and the aim of my left foot.

And, if it wasn’t enough, here it goes again. I’ll say it all the times I need to. From my heart and right into the upper 90… thanks to the gate. Thank you, Lelio.

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